Day Hike T: Red Mill Road to Penny’s Bend

End of the line (or the beginning)

Distance: 4.0 miles

  • Difficulty: Moderate
  • Camping: There is an authorized camping area available on private property in this section of the Falls Lake Trail (between Red Mill Road and Old Oxford Road).  Follow the blue-blazed trail off the MST approximately 1 mile west of Red Mill Road. NOTE: This campsite is on private property.  It is a HUGE PRIVILEGE to be allowed to camp at this location.  Vandalism, neglect or any trash left at this campsite could result in closing of this campsite by the landowner. No water or toilet facilities are provided.  There are seven established campsite pads for 2-person tents. Campsite rules: (1) Practice Leave No Trace ethics. (2) Do NOT leave any trash.  Pack it in = Pack it out. (3) There is a 2-night maximum stay.  (4) Do NOT explore past a 75 yard radius of the Shelter.  (5) NO FIRES except in the established fire pit.
  • Land managers: N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Note: Some or all of this trail is on gamelands and hunting is allowed. Learn about local hunting seasons here.
  • Volunteer Task Force Leader: Jeff Brewer,
  • Piggyback trail: No.
  • Connecting trails: No
  • Falls Lake MST Section No.: 23
  • Trailheads/Access: Red Mill Road and Penny’s Bend Nature Preserve off Old Oxford Highway. Click on map for detailed information.

Road crossings are a fact of life on the Falls Lake portion of the MST. Pay particular attention at this one, crossing Old Oxford Highway at Penny’s Bend

From Red Mill hiking west the trail starts on an old roadbed, then 0.2 miles in takes a left onto singletrack. A young forest borders a meadow for a short distance before the trail immerses itself in the woods.

This section of trail exceeds the westernmost reaches of Falls Lake and parallels the Eno River, though you don’t see much of it at first. You’ll know you’re getting close, at about the mile-and-a-half mark, when you start to climb. The trail ascends to a bluff that rises about 50 feet above the Eno, offering some nice views to the north, especially in winter.

Your descent means you’re nearing Penny’s Bend and the end of the trail. But first, cross an appears-to-be-abandoned rail line, which has been the talk of a new rails-to-trails project extending to downtown Durham and the American Tobacco Trail.

The trail reaches Old Oxford Road at Mile 3.8. To get to Penny’s Bend and the end of this section, cross and go right along the shoulder and across the narrow bridge (Penny’s Bend and its gravel lot are just beyond). Be warned: there can be a fair amount of fast traffic on this narrow road, which narrows more at the bridge. Not a good place to dawdle.

A great day hike with nice variety.

Geology Highlights: In the eastern part of this section, there is a large diabase dike that crosses the trail.  In the central part, there are bluffs along the Eno River with exposures of pebbly sandstone, and in the western part, the trail runs within a flat-lying diabase sill.  Between the sill and the river are more sandstone bluffs.

Day Hike T Map

Click on the link below the Google map to open it up in a larger version which includes definition of the map symbols, hiking notes, and an interactive option for driving to the trailheads.

View MST / Falls Lake / Section 18 in a larger mapDisclaimer

Finding Your Way

Thanks to Mark Edelstein for these detailed hiking directions.

Finding Your Way (east » west) Cumulative Mileage Mileage Between Points
Trailhead: Red Mill Road south of Technika Parkway 0.0 0.0
Turn slight L off the roadbed onto a narrow footpath. 0.2 0.19
Start to walk along a large farm field, L. 0.3 0.58

Veer R as the footpath moves away from the field and goes

through a more open forest.

0.5 1.2

Pass through a wet area with a water run. Soon pass under a power line (footing may be wet).

0.8 1.09
Walk through a cut in a large, fallen tree. 1.0 0.6

Turn slightly L to pass through an area of discarded items and cross an old roadbed.

1.1 0.17
Cross a small creek on a footbridge. 1.3 0.11
Use a footbridge to cross another small creek. 1.4 0.0

Cross a wide roadbed and start to walk through a more open forest.

1.5 0.19
A narrow cut passage takes you through a large, fallen tree. 1.6 0.58

Start a small ascent to reach higher ground and soon begin to to parallel a wide roadbed, L. To the R is the Eno River far below you.

1.8 1.2
The trail turns slightly L, then R to follow the roadbed. 2.1 1.09
Go slightly R as the trail leaves the roadbed. 2.2 0.6

Turn L, then R, onto another wide roadbed. Soon stay straight, by a junction, to go through an open area.

2.3 0.17

Traverse a narrow, old, roadbed as the trail passes a swampy area, R.

2.4 0.11
Turn R to leave the roadbed, onto a narrow footpath. 2.5 0.0
Cross another roadbed. 2.7 0.19

On stepping stones cross a water run. Soon begin a short ascent.

2.9 0.58

The trail turns R, onto a wide path. Soon pass, R, a small clearing with views of the Eno River below.

3.2 1.2

The path curves to the L, but you need to stay R to remain on the trail.

3.3 1.09

After passing a boundary marker, R, cross some abandoned railroad tracks.

3.8 0.6

On a footbridge, cross over a large drainage pipe and turn R to parallel a creek.

3.9 0.17

Reach Old Oxford Highway, go R along the shoulder, carefully cross the narrow bridge: depending upon time of day there could be considerable traffic.  Parking is just past bridge, L, at the gravel lot for Penny’s Bend Nature Preserve.

4.0 0.11